Going, going Uganda | AspenTimes.com

Going, going Uganda

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado

BASALT Harold Ulibarri isn’t sure how much longer he’ll be around, and he’s decided a nursing home is not where he wants end up. So he’s taking risks and doing some good before he dies.Still, when he recently saw a film depicting the plight of abducted children in an African nation, he had no idea that within a short time he would travel to Uganda to see it for himself.

Nor did he know he would raise $7,000 to help build a medical center in the middle of the blighted country … with a hope of raising much, much more.”I don’t know how many years I have left on the planet,” said Ulibarri, 65. “I’ve kind of found what I hope to be doing” with the rest of that time.Ulibarri, who is married and has two children, has been in Aspen since 1970, but was born in Denver and grew up in the San Francisco area. He’s a hairstylist by trade, and a salon on Spring Street carries his name.He said a couple of years ago he saw the film “Invisible Children,” a movie about the abduction of Ugandan children by rebels who force them to fight. He immediately decided it was his duty to work with his church to raise money, buy supplies and donate them to a Uganda relief effort “to help them out.”But the congregation of his church, Christ Community Church in Basalt, felt the need to do more, he said. Ultimately, he and about a dozen others raised enough money to send two representatives to Africa last December, and Ulibarri was one who went.Although he said they had expected to work with the same organization behind the Invisible Children international relief effort, they ended up working with another organization known as Global Refuge International.

GRI, according to its website (globalrefuge.org), is a “Christian-driven, nonprofit organization” that was founded in 2001 by two Coloradans, Brian McNeely, a former college football coach and his wife, Elaine. Their first mission was to lead a team of 25 people to the Thailand-Burma border to run medical clinics, build a church and provide other help to local populations suffering from a war in Burma that has gone on for half a century.They since have expanded their effort to the ongoing Ugandan refugee crisis, a war between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan government that has spilled over into neighboring nations is described by news accounts as one of Africa’s longest-running civil conflicts. That is where Ulibarri encountered the GRI teams.While working in the camps with the teams, Ulibarri said, they provided medical supplies and worked with clinics in six different refugee camps near the city of Lira, Uganda. Ulibarri said he took an emergency medical technicians course before going “so I would have something to offer,” but mostly ended up assisting the clinicians as they dispensed routine medical care.”I have never in my life worked with people with such compassion for these natives,” he said, describing primitive clinics that sometimes were little more than a table under a shade tree, with a “pharmacy” that was simply two large metal trunks filled with medical supplies.According to Ulibarri, the Ugandan government recently gave GRI a site for a medical center, located basically in the center of the area where the six camps are located, in the northern part of the country.The clinic will cost $300,000 to build, Ulibarri said, and he has been raising money at his salon and through his network of friends to help get the job done. He said he has raised $7,000, and already has used $2,000 of that to buy a motorcycle for a messenger service connecting the camps. Sometimes, he said, the motorcycle doubles as an ambulance.

He said the region is no longer suffering the worst ravages of civil was, such as the abduction of children too be pressed into military service.”They’re growing food, they’re raising crops, the only thing they don’t have is medical supplies,” he said, adding that there are plenty of volunteers and medical personnel. The problem, he said, is a lack of adequate facilities.To donate, or to get more information about the effort, call Christ Community Church in Basalt at 927-3889, or Ulibarri at 925-3332.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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